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GM Tips: Fantasy Books for Worldbuilding

"Magic Book" by Dean Spencer

The best way to learn world-building is to study how others create their worlds. While TV and video games can be inspiring, books are best for learning how to write descriptions. After all, in your game, the best way to paint a picture is through descriptions. Books can also teach how to make the implausible realistic, and how to use visuals as foreshadowing. Here are four recent recommendations to try.

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

Marie Brennan writes a fictional Victorian-style autobiography from the perspective of Lady Trent, an old woman recalling the beginnings of her career as a renowned dragon naturalist. Isabella Trent is an eccentric young woman who wants nothing more than to study dragons. When she finds an opportunity for her husband to travel to distant Vystrana she leaps at the opportunity to accompany him. Together, they must unravel the mystery of why the dragons, once distant and docile, now attack humans with impunity.

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The author herself has a background in anthropology and archeology, bringing a scientific approach to her fantasy world. For those wondering how to make the implausible realistic, Marie Brennan’s work is a fantastic example. Her visual descriptions are rich, and her scientific observations deepen the world. Game masters wanting examples of fantastical technobabble would do well to read these books.

Furyborn by Claire LeGrand

Furyborn weaves the story of two women separated by thousands of years apart in one tale. Rielle, born into a world of magic, is thought to be the prophesied Sun Queen, who will save the world from the fury of the angels. Eliana lives in the aftermath of Queen Rielle’s betrayal of the human race, in a world without magic or hope. Rielle’s story is how the world came to ruin when she was meant to save it, while Eliana struggles to survive in the aftermath.

For game masters who plan years into the future or those trying to figure out how their world came to be, Furyborn is a great case study. Both time periods are rich in lore, and the past influences the future in unexpected ways.

A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwabb

Kell is the last of the Antari in his world. Unlike other magicians who can control an element, or in rare cases, two, he can control all with the magic in his blood. Most importantly, he can create doors between parallel worlds, allowing him to travel between three different Londons, which he has named after different colors. Red is his world, rich in magic and overflowing with color. White is cold and fading, its magic is nearly gone as its people try and hang onto any last scrap of power. Grey London lost its magic long ago and is now dull and dreary. Kell serves as an ambassador while secretly smuggling artifacts of other worlds between the doors. On the night he swore would be his last smuggling operation he comes across an artifact from the fourth world: Black London. Black London had been consumed by magic and cut off from the others to stop the spread of its disease. Kell must find a way to get this artifact away from his world before the curse that befell Black London overtakes his world.

A Darker Shade of Magic is masterfully written and creates multiple, rich worlds without ever leaving the city of London. Game Masters who want a crash course in how to build up a world while keeping the setting confined would do well to read this book. Readers gain just enough hints of backstory and of the world surrounding Red London to leave them wanting more without feeling overwhelmed.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Zélie Adebola is a diviner in the kingdom of Orïsha, which had once been a land of magic. For generations, diviners had the ability to gain magic and become maji, but one day this ability disappeared. At King Saran’s decree, all adult Maji were murdered, while the young diviners, incapable of ever using magic, were made into second-class citizens. One day, Zélie comes across a mysterious scroll that restores her magic and gives her hope she can save her people.

Children of Blood and Bone is a mix of African culture and Western fantasy fiction. The novel is a meditation on power, on how it corrupts and saves. King Saran had used his political power to perform a genocide, while Zélie uses her magical power to prevent one. The magic of this world has clear rules, which don’t always follow the typical fantasy world. No types of magic are evil, including necromancy (used to help spirits find their rest) and blood magic (self-sacrifice to help others). For something different, Children of Blood and Bone is an excellent choice.

Is there a book that inspires and informs your worldbuilding? Let me know in the comments below!

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